June 2011 Archives

KONG-CHUNG-BOUNNAM.jpg The Investigation Discovery network series "I (Almost) Got Away With It" will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday an account of the notorious triple murder-robbery at the Jade East restaurant in Raleigh in 1987. The series, which focuses on criminals who were caught after years on the lam, profiles Kong Chung Bounnam, a Laotian immigrant who evaded authorities for seven years before turning up in Ontario in 1994. He was known to have been shot in the leg, and the bullet was never removed from his wound. He was the last of five men tried in the case. Three had been convicted, and an accused accomplice who didn't participate in the deadly robbery was acquitted.

Here's Investigation Discovery's promo blurb:

After a friend is fired, Konh Chung Bounnam and three accomplices rob the restaurant where he worked. The plan quickly goes awry and three workers are brutally executed.  Bounnam and his friends go on the run but he is shot during the robbery and needs medical attention. The others are caught or turn themselves in, but Bounnam remains free despite his injury. He escapes close calls with the cops in North Carolina and Canada until his need for money draws the FBI's attention.

Bounnam is serving two consecutive life sentences plus 25 years for his role in the murders. His most recent appeal was rejected in 2002. Click the jump to read the 1994 story from The Commercial Appeal on the day Bounnam was captured in Canada:
med3.8152.jpg As you might recall, longtime British pop star Sir Cliff Richard has been in town to record a new album of Memphis-inspired soul called "Soulicious," executive produced by his friend and sometime-Memphian David Gest. The BBC's Anglophenia blog had some fun today with an item about Richard's stay in Memphis that made the Internet rounds on Tuesday: Namely, that Sir Cliff had whipped up a batch of convincing Southern cooking during a visit to an iconic Memphis dining spot:

(D)uring a break in recording, he stopped by a local restaurant, Gus's Fried Chicken, with his album-buddies David Gest, Freda Payne and Candi Staton, to get a bite to eat.

David Gest, who is executive producer on the album (no, no idea what that means either), then laid down a mischievous bet. He challenged Sir Cliff to cook for everyone, and put down $500, just to make it interesting.

Sir Cliff, being something of a gourmet, rolled his sleeves up and got stuck in, whipping up chicken and potato salad and serving over 20 customers in half an hour. Wendy McCrory, the restaurant owner, was so impressed she offered him a job then and there.

Candi told Music News: "I have never seen a white man cook Cajun fried rice and southern potato salad like Cliff, he's obviously got a lot of soul in that rather lean body of his."

PICTURED: David Gest (left) is shown with Sir Cliff Richard during "An Evening of Classic Soul," a benefit for The Med Foundation, on April 15. Gest hosted the event.

More proof that Memphis really and truly knows how to do barbecue: Looking back on last weekend's Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle -- the premier event of its kind in D.C. -- The Washington Post's Smoke Signals department notes that a significant rule change in effect this year will probably be reversed for next year:

In past years, the battle included both Kansas City Barbeque Society and MIM-style contests, making it a unique event. The primary difference? Memphis in May has on-site judging, which results in lots of drama and team flamboyance. KCBS relies totally on blind judging.

This year, the battle did away with MIM-style rules. Smoke Signals heard some grumbling from teams about the decision. Is that the reason the battle is reconsidering MIM's participation? "Memphis in May just adds a lot of excitement," Tubis says.

Memphis' Church Health Center featured on CBS News

CBS News profiles Memphis' indispensable Church Health Center as a shining example of what can happen when the faith community embraces the mission of improving people's health. Says founder Dr. Scott Morris, who is also a Methodist minister:

"The Christian call to discipleship is to do three things -- to preach, to teach and to heal. You know, we got the preach and the teach down. We don't get to take a pass on the healing part," Morris said.

The piece also illustrates how Church Health depends on donations of money and doctors' time to serve its huge roll of working uninsured patients:

With just $14 million raised annually through mostly small donations, the center is able to provide care to a staggering 55,000 patients. The key is doctors' willingness to volunteer time and talent.

"I would argue, the best doctors in Memphis work for me. They work here because they have chosen to do something that provides meaning in their life," Morris added.

Click here to catch up on Morris' occasional column for the Monday Health & Fitness section of The Commercial Appeal. It's always a good read.

Catching up with Jacob Zelonky, star of 'Billy Elliot'

Jacob-Zelonky.jpg The Bay Area Jewish website Jweekly.com caught up with Jacob Zelonky, the 12-year-old Memphian who has been acting, singing and dancing in the touring production of the Tony-winning musical "Billy Elliot." (Click here to read The Commercial Appeal's profile of Jacob from last September.) Jacob plays Michael, supportive friend of the title character, a young boy from working-class northern England who dreams of being a dancer. He alternates the role with another young actor, but has distinguished himself among the critics:

Though most of the attention falls on the Billy role, Jacob has received some compelling reviews himself, such as "Jacob Zelonky is thoroughly amusing as Billy's offbeat and scrappy pal" in one publication, and "sure to be an audience favorite is Jacob Zelonky" in another.

Already a veteran of community and professional theater, Jacob had to prepare extensively for his first big tour:

"They got me a tap coach in Memphis," Jacob says. "She coached me five days a week. I had to learn 13 years worth of tap dancing in a few months."

He also had to master the tricky accent common to northern England's coal country. The show's producers demanded that the actors sound like authentic Durham County denizens.

"It took a while to learn," Jacob says. "We had dialect coaches who sat with us and went  through every line, and taught us how to say things correctly."

And finally, Jacob had to learn a little something about donning women's clothing. "It was little complicated at first," he laughs. "I didn't know if I should step into the dress or put it over my head."

While "Billy Elliot" continues to tour, Jacob is preparing for his bar mitzvah in November. For his required service project, he has been visiting Jewish assisted-living facilities and singing songs for the residents. He won't be in Memphis for the big day, but his family and friends will make the trip to St. Louis to hear him chant Torah.

MONGO-1.jpg With Tuesday's news that Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges' uniquely decorated home in Florida was being "cleaned up" with the help of heavy equipment hired by the Volusia County government, let's have a look at what one local scribe has to say about Memphis' longtime provocateur, sometime entrepreneur and oftentime political candidate. Writes Mark Lane of The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

Florida has a long tradition of people moving here and creating their own little worlds.

Our state is dotted with sculpture gardens, Tiki temples, castles made out of concrete and coral, bizarre architecture (both personal and commercial), junkyard creations, antic exterior paint experiments and monuments gone horribly wrong.

Add to this lineup the Wilbur-by-the-Sea dwelling of Prince Mongo, known to the people of Earth as Robert Hodges.

But Mongo/Hodges is no lone or reclusive eccentric. He's a provocateur who has enraged neighbors from Memphis, Tenn., to Fort Lauderdale with the weird stuff he's done to his homes.

It's like this is his job, his calling, a kind of performance art.

Sounds about right. Then there's this little snapper:

Although Mongo/Hodges claims to be prince of the planet Zambodia, other sources maintain he's a lowly sub-prefect of the planet Thoraz 3, a dinky swamp world near Proxima Centuri.

Floridians are all too familiar with people who show up here in summer and tell us how important they are back home.

Born in Memphis, Sasha the cheetah put to sleep

A 15-year-old Memphis-native cheetah named Sasha was put to death this past weekend at her home at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Fla. Sasha had been in failing health, and 15 years is at the top end of the big cats' usual life expectancy. From AP via The Miami Herald:

Sasha was born in 1996 at the Memphis Zoological Garden and Aquarium. She was relocated to White Oak Conservation Center near Jacksonville before coming to the Brevard Zoo in February 2010. Officials say she was the star of the cheetah exhibit in Expedition Africa.

Amy LaVere performs on 'Mountain Stage'

Memphis roots-pop chanteuse Amy LaVere returns to NPR's "Mountain Stage" program for a performance you can check out here. From the performance notes:

LaVere's forthcoming record Stranger Me was produced by Craig Silvey, who also produced Arcade Fire's Grammy-winning release The Suburbs. Alongside David Cousar on guitar and Shawn Zorn on drums, the vulnerability in LaVere's voice can be felt as she plays a carefully selected cycle of songs about love lost -- the basis for Stranger Me.
Theater-Angela-Bassett.jpg Angela Bassett has signed on to play opposite Samuel L. Jackson as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Broadway production of "The Mountaintop," the Olivier Award-winning play by Memphis native Katori Hall. Halle Berry had originally been cast as Camae, the mysterious Lorraine Motel maid who brings room service to King on the night before his assassination. Berry, however, withdrew from the role.

The L.A. Times reports that "The Mountaintop" posed a scheduling conflict for Bassett:

... Bassett's commitment to the New York drama means that she will have to withdraw from the Pasadena Playhouse's planned fall production of the play "Pastoral," by Frank Tangredi.

"Pastoral" was originally scheduled to have its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse in November, with Bassett in the lead role as a pastor facing multiple crises.

Sheldon Epps, the artistic director of the playhouse, said in an email that the company leaders are "examining our options and may adjust our production schedule so that Angela can do the play with us in the future. I do of course wish her great success with the Broadway production."

english655.jpg As you might recall, chef Kelly English, founder of the esteemed Restaurant Iris in Midtown Memphis, is opening a steakhouse concept at the Harrah's casino on the Missouri River in suburban St. Louis. STLToday.com has some more details on the latest project of the 32-year-old New Orleans-trained chef who has been recognized lately by the likes of the James Beard Foundation and Food & Wine magazine.

Harrah's representatives say the new restaurant in the Maryland Heights casino will seat about 200 people in a 4,000-square-foot space. That's about 40 percent larger than Range, which will close July 29 for buildout of the Kelly English Steakhouse (a working title that may change).

English says the home of toasted ravioli and curiously prepared pork ribs is undergoing a culinary growth spurt not unlike that of his adopted hometown of Memphis:

"The food-scene resurgence is coming full-throttle in St. Louis, much like it is in Memphis," English tells Off the Menu. "There are many chefs who have been pivotal in bringing this resurgence to St. Louis. Chefs like Gerard Craft and Kevin Willmann" -- both fellow Food & Wine Best New Chef alums -- "are doing great things. I can't wait to meet them and be a part of the dining scene going on in St. Louis."
Memphis' own The Bo-Keys picked up a nice mention in Monday's USA Today as "Got to Get Back (To My Baby)," the title track of sorts to the band's new album, was named "Pick of the Week" on the newspaper's Playlist feature. The band is set to play a free show Saturday at the Levitt Shell at Overton Park to celebrate the release of the Got to Get Back! long-player. Here's what USA Today had to say:

There's a Part 1 and a Part 2 of this sweaty plea from the new Got to Get Back! album by the Memphis studio vets. Otis Clay offers guest vocals here; elsewhere, Percy Wiggins and William Bell do the honors. And the Bo-Keys play the perfect hosts for these overlooked dynamos from soul's golden era.

Click here to sample "Got to Get Back (To My Baby)" and other new tracks by The Bo-Keys. And click here to read Bob Mehr's profile of the band from a couple weeks back in GoMemphis.

Jon Huntsman campaign mistakenly claimed Fred Smith's support

Huntsman-2012.jpg Jon Huntsman's as-yet-unofficial candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination made a boo-boo this past weekend when two of his political officials told The Washington Post that FedEx founder Fred Smith had thrown his support and deep pockets behind the former Utah governor and ambassador to China. Oops:

But at about noon Sunday, a FedEx executive speaking on behalf of Smith said that Smith had not signed up with Huntsman.

"Fred Smith has not committed any financial or other support to Gov. Huntsman. He is not supporting any particular candidate for the Presidency and does not plan to do so until later in the election process, if at all," William Margaritis, a senior vice president at FedEx, said in a statement to The Post.

Smith isn't the only major GOP donor who is biding his time; the party's traditional business base still wants an establishment candidate to challenge President Barack Obama. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter weighed in on this during a panel discussion Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS." (6:00)

Big Republican donors, people who want to have influence on the process, are already committing generally by this point. They're not this year because they're hoping Chris Christie will jump in, and a lot of Republicans are waiting to see: If he doesn't declare soon after Labor Day, I suspect, early this fall, then that money will go to Romney ...

Luther Dickinson talks about guitarists, influences

NorthMississippiAllstars3.jpg Luther Dickinson gives a video interview on the Gibson website in which he talks about his influences; working with his late father, Jim Dickinson, his favorite guitar players (Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle) and more.

Luther Dickinson grew up in the heart of the Memphis roots music scene. Besides his father, legendary producer Jim Dickinson, young Luther was also surrounded by the likes of R.L. Burnside, Otha Turner, Ry Cooder and John Hiatt, among many others. Soaking in this rich tradition of music left a mark on Dickinson, who picked up the guitar at an early age and proceeded to make his own mark in music with The North Mississippi Allstars and, later, The Black Crowes.

Dickinson stopped by Gibson's NYC Showroom to talk about his influences, playing with John Hiatt and his amazing collection of axes.

Treating cancer is ruinously expensive, and the cost of treatment is causing many patients to give it up altogether. Those are the conclusions of a study undertaken by Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, an oncologist and medical director of the West Clinic in Memphis and reported this week on emaxhealth.com.

The prohibitive cost of treating the second-leading cause of U.S. deaths is a problem not only for those without health insurance:

Here is the big shocker: even the insured were not protected against financial ruin and bankruptcy. Co-payments for some of the more expensive oral cancer medications can reach upwards of $500 a month, not to mention the cost of transportation, doctor visit co-payments and lost wages.

... A diagnosis of cancer increases a person's risk of personal bankruptcy, sometimes an 8% rise in cases of lung cancer, according to a study conducted by Dr. Scott Ramsey ...

Judge Joe Brown, 'the loosest courtroom on television'

Joe-Brown.jpg At MinnPost.com, columnist Max Sparber pens a tribute to a "shameful" TV pleasure: judge shows. Not just any judge shows, mind you, but those dealing with small claims, "the theater of the quotidian," as he calls it. His favorite of the bunch happens to be a former Criminal Court jurist from Memphis.

My favorite judge is Joe Brown, a sleepy-eyed fellow with a huge mustache and a startling past: He presided over James Earl Ray's last appeal for the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It's hard to imagine what the Joe Brown of that case was like, as, just now, he runs the loosest courtroom on television. Joe Brown's show isn't so much a trial as it is a free-for-all, with litigants running their mouths about any old thing, shouting each other down, and sometimes getting into loud arguments with the judge. Judge Judy will chastise people who show up in her courtroom underdressed, but the standard uniform for Joe Brown's show seems to be a fashion I like to call "Whatever was lying on the bedroom floor when I woke up." Joe Brown doesn't care -- he sometimes seems so unconcerned that you wonder if he might have dozed off in court, and the few times he gets irritated with the behavior of litigants, it is possible to wonder if his annoyance doesn't stem from having been woken up by their screeching.

Doze off in court? Judge Joe?

When Alice Cooper pointed a gun at Elvis' head

From Stereoboard via the Daily Mirror comes one of the more eyebrow-raising rock-and-roll anecdotes I've seen in a while. Of course, Elvis makes Alice Cooper seem like the totally reasonable one:

Alice Cooper has claimed that Elvis Presley asked the gothic rocker to "shoot him dead" when the pair first met at a Las Vegas hotel. In an interview with the Daily Mirror today (June 8th), Cooper claimed that the Memphis star made the bold statement during a visit to Las Vegas with actress Liza Minnelli and porn star Linda Lovelace in 1971.

Speaking to the paper, Cooper said: "When we got inside, the place was full of guns. Elvis took me into the kitchen, opened a drawer, and pulled out a loaded pistol, telling me to put it to his head. I didn't know what to do. I had this gun in my hand and was expecting one of his security to come in any second, see me holding a weapon and shoot me dead."

He continued: 'A little voice in my left ear was telling me, 'Go on, kill him, you'll always be the guy who killed Elvis'. In my other ear was another voice saying, 'You can't kill him, it's Elvis Presley, wound him instead, you'll only get a few years!'"

"A fraction of a second later Elvis did a flying kick on the gun, and sent it flying, before tripping me and pinning me to the ground by my neck, announcing, 'That's how you stop a man with a gun'."

Elvis, Alice Cooper, Liza Minnelli, Linda Lovelace. 1971. Vegas. Perfect.
Justin Timberlake gets philosophical over a round of golf on a public course in Brooklyn with New York Times writer Bill Pennington in this post and (corny) video on the On Par blog. The 30-year-old Memphis-area native is a skilled golfer who says he embraced the game as a way to unwind and clear his mind while working on the road. And he has found some correlations between performing and playing golf as well:

"Tempo is everything in music," he said. "I see a correlation to golf. The tempo and pace of a round are important. Having good balance, too."

He does not, however, see similarities between the pressure to entertain 20,000 fans and making a 3-foot putt.

"I don't put that much pressure on myself on the golf course," he said. "So, I don't feel that. Being an entertainer can be very, very intense. I felt that. To me, golf is getting out in nature with my buddies, or getting to play with my father."

Timberlake has joined with Callaway for a Father's Day contest in which the prize is a weekend golf outing at Mirimichi, the Millington course that Timberlake owns and had renovated for $16 million. Sign up at facebook.com/Callaway

Meanwhile, Timberlake's new movie, "Bad Teacher," comes out in a couple of weeks, and he has been telling interviewers during his media rounds that he himself had a "bad teacher":

And although Timberlake's unnamed seventh grade teacher wasn't that bad, she did give him a hard time over his songwriting dreams.

He explains, "She told me I should have more realistic goals than being a songwriter, because my schoolwork was suffering.

"You can quote me on this directly to her: 'Suck it!'"

Charlie Musselwhite talks about blues, booze and Beale Street

charlie-musselwhite.jpg The Jerusalem Post caught up with world-class harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite before a concert next week in Tel Aviv. The 67-year-old bluesman, who grew up in Memphis and honed his craft jamming on Beale Street before moving to Chicago in the 1960s, talks about the musical hothouse that this city was in the '50.

"Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, the rockabilly pioneers, used to live right across the street from me, and I used to see people like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash at neighborhood parties," said Musselwhite, whose father was of Choctaw Indian descent.

"Music was my comforter from the harsh realities of life, and I was fascinated by the street blues singers I would see when I went to downtown Memphis.

Musselwhite also talks about his ongoing recovery from alcoholism, his days in Chicago playing with the likes of Muddy Waters, and his recent collaborations with Cyndi Lauper, including on her recent Memphis Blues album. And there's this great quote about how he developed his own unique style of playing:

"I always had the feeling that you play your own blues," said Musselwhite.

"I used to go out in the woods and make up stuff on the harmonica, just to play something. I listened to everybody and sometimes would cop a lick off of a record, but mostly I was trying to play what I felt. I'm still trying to figure out how to do that - there's no end to learning."

Side note: Musselwhite figured pretty prominently in the excellent multimedia blues package we recently produced. Check it out here.

Onion AV Club tours Sun Studio in Memphis

The Onion AV Club's "Pop Pilgrims" travel show stopped in Memphis for a peek inside Sun Studio. Tour guide Cora Pitt shows host Dan Telfer such notable sights as the Shure microphone used by Elvis ("We let people lick and kiss the thing if they really want to," she says), a piano key with a burn mark left by Jerry Lee Lewis' cigar, and the drumset used by U2's Larry Mullen in 1987 for the band's "Rattle and Hum" sessions. Goner Records founder Eric Friedl also appears to talk about his favorite Sun tracks.

Memphis director Craig Brewer to helm 'Tarzan' revamp

Memphis film director Craig Brewer will direct and write a new movie version of "Tarzan" for Warner Brothers, Variety reports today. In the meantime, his remake of the '80s hit "Footloose" is set to come out Oct. 14.

UPDATE: Via Fredric Koeppel on Facebook, here are some more details from New York magazine's website, citing Deadline. Apparently Brewer is thinking trilogy.

UPDATE: John Beifuss also posted about this over at The Bloodshot Eye. At the exact same time (1:22) ...
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Deputy Online News Editor Mark Richens takes you through all the news about Memphis from sources outside the Mid-South.